Friday, July 20, 2007

The Price of Poverty

Tonight, someone told me that a platform on poverty could not win an election. "Poor people, "she said, "often don't vote." There's some truth in that, from a political perspective. Yet, poverty is the issue that is at the core of other ills, especially in rural America. Our current leaders lack the political courage to address poverty, perhaps because to address it will require significant change and significant investment, or perhaps because "poor people don't vote." Either way, there's not a lot of political capitol to be gained by working to eliminate poverty.

Still , we must. In my community, Bibb County, Georgia, there are more families who have an income of less than $10,000.00 per year than families who have an income greater than $75,000.00 per year. According to The University of Georgia Initiative on Poverty and the Economy, here, nearly one in every five people and more than 15% of all families live at or below the poverty line. More than one in four children (28.41%) in Bibb County live in poverty, and because many families who can afford to do so send their children to private schools, the poverty rate for children in our public schools is much higher than even that startling number. More than 60% of our public school children qualify for free or reduced price lunch. I've heard Sharon Patterson, our superintendent, talk about the fact that for many, the breakfast and lunch they get at school is all the have to eat, and she worries that during summer break, many go hungry.

It's fair to say that in Bibb County, the face of poverty is a single, black mother. Here, nearly 80% of those who live in poverty are black. Here, nearly 30% of all families are headed by a single female. If you are (1) female; (2) black; (3) a mother, and (4) unmarried, you have hit the poverty aces, and for you, the poverty rate soars to nearly 70%.

The impact of these statistics can be seen in the growing cost of healthcare for the indigent and uninsured, the number of blighted neighborhoods and the struggle our public schools face to keep children in school. I do believe that poverty is a moral issue, but it is also an issue of simple economics. It makes sense to help people climb out of poverty, to become self-sufficient. Access to healthcare, especially preventative care, good public schools and jobs with decent wages are the keys. Yet, right now, our President, while he waits to undergo a colonoscopy-preventative care unavailable to the 47 million uninsured in this country-threatens to veto a bill that would help make sure that children of working families do have access to health insurance. What sort of arrogance does that require?

Perhaps my friend is right, poverty is not the issue that will win an election, but she would agree, it is an issue we must insist our leaders have the courage to confront.

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